NCAA Basketball

Sweet Sixteen Preview: Kansas vs. Michigan

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Tonight is home to possibly the best Sweet 16 matchup of the tournament.  The Kansas Jayhawks will tip off against the Michigan Wolverines at 6:37 central time.  The game, being played at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, is a rare meeting between two of the top programs in the country.

Look for the matchup between Kansas guard Travis Releford and Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr.  Releford’s strong defensive play could determine the outcome of the game.  Hardaway Jr. has been averaging 17.5 points per game in the Wolverine’s two tournament games, but Travis Releford has the defensive ability to significantly decrease Burke’s scoring.

Also keep an eye on the Trey Burke matchup with Elijah Johnson.  Johnson has had a disappointing season, but has proved to come up in tight situations.  Burke, a sophmore, is arguably the player of the year, though.  I think Johnson will come up big once again and hold Trey Burke to a sub-par night.

AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel

If Jeff Withey can have the same type of game against Michigan as he did against North Carolina, the Jayhawks have no reason to lose.  Withey’s paint communication with Kevin Young is superb, and they are arguably the best big man duo in the NCAA this season.  Watch for Young to draw double teams and then dish the ball to Withey for easy scores.

The X-factor in this game is Ben McLemore.  Lately, McLemore has been playing at a level he has never seen, nor has the nation.  In Kansas’ previous game versus North Carolina, McLemore went 0-9 from the field, 0-6 from three point range.  If he can regain his shot, Kansas could cruise to a victory.  Plus, I want to see him have a highlight-dunk.  During the regular season, Ben McLemore soared for some spectacular dunks.  If he can go on a one man breakaway, McLemore should put something special on a dunk to give Kansas the momentum.

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Getty Images/Ed Zurga

I belive Kansas will come out on top.  The Jayhawks have showed up for big games against some of the best teams and I do not see that changing today. Also, this is Michigan’s first Sweet Sixteen appearance since the Fab Five the early 1990’s. Kansas’ experience in the Sweet 16, eight appearances in the last ten years , will be beneficial to tonight’s game. Tipoff is at 6:37 p.m. on TBS, and the winner of this game will advance to play the winner of Florida and Florida Gulf Coast.

Oh, and how about Florida Gulf Coast?

Drew Agnello

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What Went Wrong?

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Kansas’ 62-55 loss to TCU last night was one of the biggest upsets in Jayhawk history.  After easy wins, such as their 74 to 66 win over Ohio State, Kansas’ performance was not the way it has been since the start of the season.  For the first time since 2006, the Kansas Jayhawks have lost back-to-back games. The big question is, “What is going on with KU?”

KU can not score 13 points in the first half and shoot 13.6% from the field, both stats at their lowest since 1988, and expect to win.  Wide open jump shots and seemingly easy lay-ups were missed, which is inexcusable for coach Bill Self’s team.  The fundamentals were not there for the Jayhawks.

AP Photo / Sharon Ellman
AP Photo / Sharon Ellman

In the game as a whole, the Jayhawks shot 29.6% from the field on 61 attempted shots, along with 13.6% from three point range.  Although KU was able to beat TCU on the glass, winning the rebound battle 44-34, the second-chance points would not fall.

Ben McLemore played decently, although below his average in scoring 15 points, but grabbed nine rebounds for the Hawks.  Elijah Johnson’s play was horribly ineffective.  Although he scored eight points, they all came off desperation shots in the final three minutes.  His leadership was nonexistent, a major role in Kansas’ loss.

Defensively, Kansas played very well in the first half.  TCU was held to 22 first half points, proving great defensive play by Kansas.  However, the Kansas defensive effort vanished late in the game.  KU had multiple opportunities to cut the lead on defensive stops, but TCU kept scoring.  It was as if Kansas was only giving effort on the offensive side down the stretch.

The most disappointing aspect in Kansas’ loss was knowing how easily they could have won.  TCU missed a hefty amount of free throws in the final minutes, giving Kansas multiple opportunities to score and tie, or even win, the game.

For those Jayhawks’ fans who believe this year’s team is better than last year, Bill Self begs to differ.  “It was the worst team that Kansas ever put on the floor, since Dr. Naismith was there,” coach Bill Self said after Monday night’s loss, “I think he had some bad teams when he lost to Topeka YMCA and things like that in the first couple years.  But for the first half, there hasn’t been team play worse than that offensively.”

This Kansas team has a long way to go.  They have the potential to be a championship-caliber team, but changes have to be made.  KU has been not utilizing their big men, which has left them vulnerable when not shooting well from the field. Kansas travels to Oklahoma for a tough road game on Saturday, looking to rebound from an embarrassing game that gave TCU its first Big XII win.

Drew Agnello

McLemore > Pressey

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Trevor Weinrich had an article yesterday praising Phil Pressey for all of the abilities he has.  In the end, Trevor believed Pressey was better than Ben McLemore, the Kansas standout.  Trevor ended the article saying, “Which side do you choose?”  I choose the McLemore side, for all of the right reasons.

I believe a player’s importance to a team is much more important than his stats.  Is Phil Pressey important to his team? Definitely.  His point guard play is unreal, and I believe he is one of the best in the NCAA.  When I look at Ben McLemore, though, I see an on-court leader whose talents are able to control the tempo of the game and the tone of the crowd. Whenever McLemore dunks the ball, or drains a three, it is more than likely astonishing and his teammates become motivated to make the next big play.  Along with teammate motivation comes the way a crowd reacts.  If the game is in Lawrence, the crowd will reach a high number on the decibel scale and the opponents will go cold from the field.  If the game is on the road, the crowd will go dead silent and momentum will be in favor of Kansas.  With that being said, my point is Ben McLemore is a better leader than Phil Pressey is.  Sure Pressey makes awesome passes that make you say, “Wow,” but I think that because McLemore is a redshirt freshman, yet a great leader, he gives his team more of a boost.  I may be going deeper than I should, but the momentum of a team is maybe the most important part to winning a basketball game.

Kansas v Ohio State
Then there are the stats.  McLemore puts up almost 17 points per game compared to Phil Pressey’s near 14.  Assists wise, Pressey obviously has the edge since he is a point guard, dishing 7.5 a game next McLemore who only has a mere 2.1.  Every other stat, McLemore absolutely owns Pressey.  Ben grabs 5.2 boards a game and Pressey snatches just 3.4.  McLemore has a free throw percentage and a three point percentage that absolutely demolishes Phil Pressey’s.  Stats wise, the edge goes to McLemore as well as the momentum factor.  Here is a graph comparing McLemore and Pressey.

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Ben McLemore’s X-Factor and stats mean so much more to Kansas than Pressey does to Mizzou.  Missouri fans would say differently, of course, but on a national level, I would bet a majority would say McLemore.  Trevor says hands down Phil Pressey is the better player.  For me, I say without question Ben McLemore is better than Phil Pressey.  Unfortunately, there is no chance of the two going head-to-head this season.  However, we will have to wait and see what the Madness of March may have to give.

Drew Agnello

Upcoming Season for the Kansas Jayhawks

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A new basketball season is right around the corner, and Jayhawk fans should expect a few new things from this year’s team.  Coming off of a devastating National Championship loss to Kentucky last year, coach Bill Self’s squad is hungrier than ever for not only another National Championship appearance, but a title.  After winning the title in 2008, Kansas wants to win their second championship in five years, and with Bill Self coaching, their is a great chance KU could earn another title.  Self has won 476 games in his career.  He is also only 49 years old.  Bill has won an average of 84 percent of games he has coached at Kansas, putting him on track to achieve the most wins of all time in NCAA history.  The 2012 Kansas basketball team has the right coaching and attitude, but lacks the needed experience.

This is a relatively young team.  Led by only four seniors, this team may struggle.  The Jayhawks will be centered around Elijah Johnson, a three point specialist, Jeff Withey, a possible All-American center, and Travis Releford, who can control the momentum of any game.  Kansas basketball will be a small team height wise.  There is one true center on the team in Jeff Withey, and he can not play the entire game.  However,

Kansas is stacked in the guard position, and has plenty of talent.  Freshmen Jamari Traylor and Ben McLemore, who were both suspended by the NCAA last season for eligibility reasons, are dynamic players who can play both ends of the floor with ease.  What Jamari Traylor lacks in height, he makes up for in his 220 pound frame.  Ben McLemore is one of the most athletic players to come to Kansas.  He can leap in the air for rebounds like a forward, and drive to the basket and finish like the guard he is.

There are no major injuries on this Kansas squad. Forward Kevin Young broke his hand a few weeks ago, but is expected to be fully recovered by the start of the season.  Other than Young’s minor injury, the team will be ready to go versus Southeast Missouri State on November 9th.

Kansas’ non-conference schedule this year is easier than in years past. Only three preseason ranked teams are on the Jayhawks’ schedule.  The first test for Kansas will be when they take on Michigan State in Atlanta, Georgia.  However, the toughest test will take place in Columbus, Ohio, where the Jayhawks will face off against Ohio State.  This will be a revenge game for the Buckeyes, as they look to avenge the losses they suffered against Kansas in both the regular season and the Final Four last season. Kansas will have a few competitors for the Big XII Championship this year. The most likely of teams to dethrone Kansas this year is Baylor. They beat Kansas in Waco, Texas, last season. These two teams, in the end, will be duking it out for the top spot in the Big XII.

This should be an exciting year for Kansas basketball.  There is a legitimate chance that the Kansas Jayhawks could end the season with their sixth national championship in school history.  The coaching is there, but is the maturity in the young players?  Maturity comes with time, so time will ultimately tell.

Drew Agnello